by Cass Art

This week, nine more artists took to their easels in a battle of the brushes for a chance to become ‘Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year’, win a £10,000 commission and £500 of art supplies from Cass Art. Their challenge, as always, was to create a portrait in just four hours from a live, celebrity sitter. Heat three’s famous faces included actor and Bafta award-winning documentary maker Ross Kemp, actor Freddie Fox and actress Vicky McClure.
We caught up with Bríd Higgins Ni Chinnéide, winner of Heat Three, to find out how it went and discuss her work beyond the show…
Tell us a bit about yourself, where do you live, what is your background, where did you study and how long have you been an artist?
Born and raised in Dublin, I have lived abroad for a number of years, but I moved back home with my family three years ago and we plan to stay here for a while. I studied painting in St. Petersburg, Russia, for three years in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, having studied Russian at university. After that I worked in journalism for a number of years, but I was usually working on paintings in my spare time. I’ve been painting professionally for just over 2 years now and I hope to continue doing so for the rest of my life! 
How did you find the whole experience? What were the main challenges?
The experience of painting “competitively”, under time pressure, was exhilarating and exciting, and it was great to be in the company of some other wonderful artists. The gathering audience and increased frequency of interviews became a bit stressful as the day went on. I was exhausted at the end of the day!
You started by sketching in the figure with brown paint and built up tones from there. Can you talk us through your process step by step?
I usually sketch out the outline of the form in raw umber. It’s a fast-drying pigment with a warm tone that doesn’t contaminate the other colours too heavily. After that I usually block in the most obvious mid-tones and then I add dark accents and highlights. I try to work across the canvas from the beginning, adding details and refining the form at the end. I work solely from life when there is a model, so I am always looking back and forth at the sitter while I am painting. This process works best when you have a sitter as professional as Vicky.
What did you enjoy about painting Vicky? What was most important to you in capturing her likeness?
I really enjoyed painting Vicky, though I remember that I worried about how I would balance the various shades of pale pink that featured in her sitting. Vicky was so friendly and committed to the process, which made her a pleasure to paint. I always enjoy painting people who have an inner life that they can tap into during the process of sitting still for hours.
How often do you work from life? What are the benefits and how do you capture someone in just four hours?
About once a week. When I moved back to Dublin, I joined a group that gathers to draw and paint from life every Friday. This is my favourite day of the week, because of the excitement of creating a new work in a day (even if it doesn’t always work out), and because it’s so nice to get out of my studio and meet other artists.
Which other artists inspire you?
I’m constantly looking at other artist’s work. I was very interested in the Russian 19th century painters when I studied in St Petersburg. Painters such as Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov, Nikolai Fechin. I later discovered some of the European “painterly” painters, such as Antonio Mancini and Joaquin Sorolla. I love some 20th century, British painters too - Freud and Bacon are always a source of contemplation. Recently I have discovered many contemporary painters on Instagram, and I am a little addicted to watching their progress.
Tell us a bit about your other artworks. What subjects interests you? 
Most of my work incorporates some element of portraiture or figure drawing. Recently I have been painting family members a lot. I have also been working on a series of paintings that explore physical movement as a form of human expression. I have been using the early motion photography of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Marrey as an inspiration.
Your work is very painterly, do you use any mediums when you paint, do you have any tips for making painterly work?
I use as little medium as possible. Depending on the support, I usually use Linseed oil or Sansodor or a mixture of both to loosen the paint if necessary. I work quite quickly, but sometimes I might paint over a picture many times until it seems right.
What are your favourite art materials to use and do you have any tips and techniques you could share about portrait painting? 
I like using artist’s quality paints such as Winsor and Newton, Old Holland, Sennelier or Michael Harding. I buy what I need as I go along and occasionally splash out on lovely, rich colour, such as Cerulean, if I’m feeling flush. I usually buy extra large tubes of Titanium White, Yellow Ochre and Ultramarine as these are the colours I use most of. I refill on the smaller tubes as I go along. I use a range of brushes, but I usually start a painting with bristle brushes. I like Rosemary Brushes at the moment. I try to vary the brushes I use on any one painting, but often I end up using the same brush for the whole painting because I am so engrossed in the process.
You have a wonderful understanding of colour that particularly impressed the judges. The tones in your paintings are subtle but impactful, you make conscious decisions about how colour effects the composition as a whole. Could you talk a bit about how you use colour both to model form and to balance a composition?
Thank you! I’m not sure that every decision I make about colour is conscious, but I am aware of warm and cool shades and I try to balance these across the canvas. While painting Vicky, I felt that the splashes of dark (her hair, the black stripe in the background) needed to be distributed with care against the expanse of pale pinks.
What advice would you give to other artists thinking of applying to take part in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year?
I think it’s great to bring your artwork outside the studio/home occasionally. It is inspiring to see other people working and to look at one’s own work from a greater distance (through other people’s eyes). This is a challenging process, but I think it’s really worthwhile. I would advise anyone entering the competition to practice making a portrait under time pressure. I was very lucky in having some volunteer sitters lined up in the weeks before the competition started.
Feeling Inspired?
Discover more of Bríd's work on her website www.bridhc.com or follow her on Instagram @bridhc. You can also see her work Procession at the Hamilton Gallery, Sligo, Ireland in August.
You can explore our range of oil paints and brushes online and in-store. Share your portraits via our social channels using the hashtag #PAOTY2018 and don't forget to tag #CASSART


Inspired by this year's heats? Sky Arts is once again on the hunt for the next Artist of the Year. Whether you're a master of portraiture or a pro at plein air, submit your works for a chance to win a £10,000 commission and £500 worth of art materials from us here at Cass Art. Both competitions are now open for submissions. Find out more by following the links below:


Image credits: 
All images listed below © Bríd Higgins Ni Chinnéide
Self Portrait with a Samovar, 2017, 50x40cm.
Sister; Portrait of Áine, 2017, Oil on Canvas, 50x50cm.
It Doesn't Get Better: Hugh's Nap, 2017, Oil on Panel, 35x45cm.
After Muybrige; Double Woman in the Grand Canal, 2017, Oil on Canvas, 100x60cm. 
Procession, 70x120cm, Oil on Linen, 2017
Margin of Sleep, Oil on Canvas, 2017, 50x50cm.
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